Archives for category: Politics

This is a very informative, very important, and very distressing article that appeared in the Washington Post. It is a shocking account of how Congress was stripped of its staff, how its intellectual firepower was stifled by deep cuts to the Congressional Research Service, The Congressional Budget Office, and the General Accountability Office, nonpartisan sources of independent analysis that serve Congress. The author calls this “Congress’s self-lobotomy.” As Congress has grown intellectually depleted, an army of lobbyists have stepped up to fill the gaps.

The author is Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-N.J.), who was elected to Congress in 1996. He represents New Jersey’s 9th Congressional District.

I urge you to read this article.

In a year of congressional lowlights, the hearings we held with Silicon Valley leaders last fall may have been the lowest. One of my colleagues in the House asked Google CEO Sundar Pichai about the workings of an iPhone — a rival Apple product. Another colleague asked Facebook head Mark Zuckerberg, “If you’re not listening to us on the phone, who is?” One senator was flabbergasted to learn that Facebook makes money from advertising. Over hours of testimony, my fellow members of Congress struggled to grapple with technologies used daily by most Americans and with the functions of the Internet itself. Given an opportunity to expose the most powerful businesses on Earth to sunlight and scrutiny, the hearings did little to answer tough questions about the tech titans’ monopolies or the impact of their platforms.

It’s not because lawmakers are too stupid to understand Facebook. It’s because our available resources and our policy staffs, the brains of Congress, have been so depleted that we can’t do our jobs properly.

Americans who bemoan a broken Congress rightly focus on ethical questions and electoral partisanship. But the tech hearings demonstrated that our greatest deficiency may be knowledge, not cooperation. Our founts of independent information have been cut off, our investigatory muscles atrophied, our committees stripped of their ability to develop policy, our small staffs overwhelmed by the army of lobbyists who roam Washington. Congress is increasingly unable to comprehend a world growing more socially, economically and technologically multifaceted — and we did this to ourselves.

When the 110th Congress opened in 2007, Democrats rode into office on a tide of outrage at the George W. Bush administration and the Republican Congress, which had looked the other way during the Tom DeLay, Jack Abramoff and Duke Cunningham scandals. My colleagues and I focused our energies on exposing corruption. But we missed crucial opportunities to reform the institution of Congress. As my party assumes a new majority in the House, we confront similar circumstances and have a second chance to begin the hard work of nursing our chamber back to strength.

Our decay as an institution began in 1995, when conservatives, led by then-Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), carried out a full-scale war on government. Gingrich began by slashing the congressional workforce by one-third. He aimed particular ire at Congress’s brain, firing 1 of every 3 staffers at the Government Accountability Office, the Congressional Research Service and the Congressional Budget Office. He defunded the Office of Technology Assessment, a tech-focused think tank. Social scientists have called those moves Congress’s self-lobotomy, and the cuts remain largely unreversed.

Gingrich’s actions didn’t stop with Congress’s mind: He went for its arms and legs, too, as he dismantled the committee system, taking power from chairmen and shifting it to leadership. His successors as speaker have entrenched this practice. While there was a 35 percent decline in committee staffing from 1994 to 2014, funding over that period for leadership staff rose 89 percent.

This imbalance has defanged many of our committees, as bills originating in leadership offices and K Street suites are forced through without analysis or alteration. Very often, lawmakers never even see important legislation until right before we vote on it. During the debate over the Republicans’ 2017 tax package, hours before the floor vote, then-Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) tweeted a lobbying firm’s summary of GOP amendments to the bill before she and her colleagues had had a chance to read the legislation. A similar process played out during the Republicans’ other signature effort of the last Congress, the failed repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Their bill would have remade one-sixth of the U.S. economy, but it was not subject to hearings and was introduced just a few hours before being voted on in the dead of night. This is what happens when legislation is no longer grown organically through hearings and debate.

Congress does not have the resources to counter the growth of corporate lobbying. Between 1980 and 2006, the number of organizations in Washington with lobbying arms more than doubled, and lobbying expenditures between 1983 and 2013 ballooned from $200 million to $3.2 billion. A stunning 2015 study found that corporations now devote more resources to lobby Congress than Congress spends to fund itself. During the 2017 fight over the tax legislation, the watchdog group Public Citizen found that there were more than 6,200 registered tax lobbyists, vs. 130 aides on the Senate Finance Committee and the Joint Committee on Taxation, a staggering ratio approaching 50-to-1 disfavoring the American people. In 2016 in the House, there were just 1,300 aides on all committees combined, a number that includes clerical and communications workers. Our expert policy staffs are dwarfed by the lobbying class.

The practical impact of this disparity is impossible to overstate as lobbyists flood our offices with information on issues and legislation — information on which many lawmakers have become reliant. Just a few weeks ago, at the end of the session, I witnessed the biennial tradition of departing members of Congress relinquishing their suites to the incoming class. As lawmakers emptied their desks and cabinets, the office hallways were clogged with dumpsters overflowing with reports, white papers, massaged data and other materials, a perfect illustration of the proliferating junk dropped off by lobbyists.

Congress remade its committees in the 1970s to challenge Richard Nixon’s presidency and move power to rank-and-file lawmakers. Many segregationist chairmen were ousted and replaced by reformers, and committees and subcommittees were given flexibility to study issues under their purview. It’s no accident that some of the most significant legislation and oversight by Congress — Title IX; the Clean Water Act; the Watergate, Pike and Church hearings — came from this period. Congress had strengthened its pillars, hired smart people and accessed the best information available.

Following the reforms of the 1970s, the House held some 6,000 hearings per year. But eventually, the number of House hearings fell — from a tick above 4,000 in 1994 to barely more than 2,000 in 2014. On the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, of which I am a member, oversight hearings are virtually nonexistent, as is developing legislation. We had no hearings in 2017 on the bill that would dramatically rewrite our tax code. And in the last Congress, we didn’t haul in any administration officials for a single public hearing on the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Assessing this state of affairs in a 2017 report, the Congressional Management Foundation noted that committees “have been meeting less often than at almost any other time in recent history.” This neglect has become the norm. Instead, leadership, lobbyists and the White House decide how to solve policy problems.

Indeed, Congress has allowed the White House to dominate policymaking. Trade is a perfect illustration. Despite our current president’s braggadocio, most Americans would be surprised to learn ultimate trade power rests with Congress. But over and over we’ve willingly, even eagerly, handed off that responsibility given to us by Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution. President Trump’s power to renegotiate NAFTA was granted by Congress, as was his power to issue tariffs, allowed under the Trade Expansion Act of 1962. I disagreed with the decision in 2015 to give President Barack Obama — a member of my own party — fast-track power to advance the Trans-Pacific Partnership. During that debate, I sat stupefied as some members of our committee sought to award not only Obama but also future, unknown executives an extended and open-ended authority to make other deals. Congress was prepared to simply abdicate our job.

Perhaps the most striking instance of political interference I’ve seen in my career occurred in the Ways and Means Committee in 2014. Then-Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) had toiled for months with Democrats, Republicans and budget experts to craft a comprehensive tax reform bill. I may not have loved the final product, but I respected the process. Republican leadership killed the proposal almost immediately after it was unveiled. The reason? They wanted to deny Obama a legislative accomplishment.

For decades, nearly every piece of legislation would reach the floor via committee, but beginning in the 1990s, the rate began to drop. In the 113th Congress, approximately 40 percent of big-ticket legislation bypassed committees. Before 1994, Camp would have informed the speaker of his proposal and brought it to the floor. Now, a chairman has much less power to realize meaningful legislation. Meanwhile, longstanding House rules have essentially blocked the amendment process on the floor, meaning bills can’t be modified by members of the wider chamber.

In addition to committee weakness, House lawmakers collectively employ fewer staffers today than they did in 1980. Between 1980 and 2016, when the U.S. population rose by nearly 97 million people and districts grew by 40 percent on average (about 200,000 people per seat), the number of aides in House member offices decreased, to 6,880, and total House staff increased less than 1 percent, to 9,420.

The first lobe of Congress’s brain we can bulk back up is the Congressional Research Service. The CRS provides studies from talented experts spanning law, defense, trade, science, industry and other realms. Some of our greatest oversight triumphs — Watergate, Iran-contra, the Freedom of Information Act — were achieved with the CRS’s support. Great nations build libraries, and much of the CRS is housed in the Library of Congress’s Madison Building.

But the CRS has become a political target. In 2012, a CRS report finding that tax cuts do not generate revenue enraged my Republican colleagues, who had the report pulled and began browbeating CRS experts. According to figures supplied by the CRS, the next year, the service saw its funding cut by $5 million, nearly 5 percent, recovering to previous levels only in 2015. (The CRS did get big funding bumps in recent years.)

The Congressional Budget Office and the Government Accountability Office, crown jewels of our body that provide nonpartisan budget projections, are similarly ignored or maligned for partisan purposes. Last year, when the CBO debunked claims that the GOP tax plan would create jobs, Republicans savaged the agency instead of improving the law. It reminded one of my colleagues, Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.), of an episode of “The Simpsons” in which Springfield residents, rescued from a hurtling comet, resolve to raze the town observatory.

The GAO also furnishes rich information to Congress on virtually any subject. Last year I requested and obtained a study on the live-events ticket market. It was a probing report with fresh data. Former senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), one of the most conservative lawmakers of the past generation, praised the GAO, estimating that every dollar of funding for the agency potentially saved Americans $90. Nonetheless, from 1980 to 2015, GAO staffing was cut by one-fifth.

While I never had the pleasure of collaborating with the Office of Technology Assessment, its reputation is legendary. Like the GAO, it operated as a think tank for Congress, tasked with studying science and technology issues. The OTA was Congress’s only agency solely conducting scholarly work on these issues until Gingrich disemboweled it. Today, few members of Congress know it ever existed.

The congressional hearings on big tech showcased my colleagues’ inability to wrap their heads around basic technologies. But our challenges don’t stop at Silicon Valley. Biomedical research, CRISPR, space exploration, artificial intelligence, election security, self-driving cars and, most pressingly, climate change are also on Congress’s plate.

And we are functioning like an abacus seeking to decipher string theory. By one estimate, the federal government spends $94 billion on information technology, while Congress spends $0 on independent assessments of technology issues. We are crying out for help to guide our thinking on these emerging areas. I have backed motions to bring the OTA back to life, and I was heartened last year when the House Appropriations Committee approved funding for a study on the feasibility of a new OTA.

The creation in the House rules of a Select Committee for the Modernization of Congress in this new session is a terrific beginning — and a signal that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) understand the importance of these issues. Providing capital and staff to the institution should be a major priority in the 116th Congress. The budgets we approve fund 445 executive departments, agencies, commissions and other federal bodies. But for every $3,000 the United States spends per American on government programs, we allocate only $6 to oversee them.

After decades of disinvesting in itself, Congress has become captured by outside interests and partisans. Lawmakers should be guided by independent scholars, researchers and policy specialists. We must recognize our difficulties in comprehending an impossibly complex world. Undoing the mindless destruction of 1994 will take a lot of effort, but with investment, we can make Congress work again.

Some of you may recall that Masha Gessen, a Russian-American journalist and dissident, was quick to express skepticism about Putin’s efforts to intervene in the 2016 election. In this article, where she interviews Kasparov, a chess champion and an activist, that skepticism has disappeared.

The excerpt begins with a response to her question by Kasparov:

I suspect that they made a conscious decision to create not a Chinese-type system of blocking access to information but its opposite: a flood of information. They created a deluge. For example, they create entire troll debates. You think that there is an argument raging on the Internet, when in reality it’s a script.

When a political system is unstable, something like this can play a serious role. It shouldn’t have been hard to imagine that Putin would decide that, since he has been able to influence Holland, England, Germany, and Italy, to say nothing of Moldova, Romania, and Bulgaria, he would try his hand here. But everyone subscribed to the traditional mistaken belief that Putin is a regional player. Considering the resources Putin has, it was obvious that sooner or later he would challenge the world’s strongest country, because that’s his way to demonstrate his own invincibility.

How well thought-out do you think this strategy was here?

At first they were using Trump mostly as an icebreaker. They expected Hillary to win and wanted to discredit her completely. Trump was the perfect vehicle for discrediting not only Hillary but the entire electoral system. Putin’s great advantage is that, unlike Soviet propagandists, he is not selling an ideology. I call him the merchant of doubt. His message is, We are shit, you are shit, and all of this is bullshit. What democracy? Trump was the ideal agent of chaos.

Trump kept saying that the election will be rigged. This was the Kremlin line. I think their main script was that Hillary would win in a close battle and #ElectionIsRigged would be a hashtag that would discredit her. She would be paralyzed. She’d be facing a Republican congress, which would immediately begin impeachment proceedings.

And then they saw that they had a shot at the jackpot. In its last stages, the campaign changed. They started using WikiLeaks when they sensed that they had a chance of getting Trump into office.

At the same time, Putin held his annual Valdai Club meeting for foreign experts on Russia, and that year it was designed to build bridges with the Hillary Clinton Administration they were anticipating.

Some things take time, even in a dictatorship. Valdai was planned ahead of time. And I’m not saying they had any certainty. Hillary was their main expectation. But they saw that they had a chance. They are card sharks. They stow an ace up their sleeve and keep playing the game.

Later, they thought that they may be able to pull off something even bigger. If you analyze what was happening between November and January, during the transition period, you will see that they were getting ready for a grandiose project. Henry Kissinger played a role. I think he was selling the Trump Administration on the idea of a mirror of 1972, except, instead of a Sino-U.S. alliance against the U.S.S.R., this would be a Russian-American alliance against China. This explains the Taiwan phone call. [In December, 2016, Trump spoke on the telephone with Taiwan’s President, Tsai Ing-wen, breaking decades of protocol and earning a rebuke from China.]

But it all went off the rails on December 29th, when Mike Flynn called the Russian Embassy. Flynn is a few weeks away from becoming the national-security adviser. And still he calls the Russian Ambassador. He calls to say, “Don’t do anything in response to the sanctions the United States has just imposed.” [The Russian foreign minister, Sergei] Lavrov has already announced that Russia will match the sanctions, Cold War–style: the U.S. has expelled thirty-five people and taken away two buildings, and we are going to do the exact same thing. And then Putin, effectively renouncing Lavrov, says, “You know what, we are starting a new life. We are not expelling anyone, and we are inviting American diplomats’ children to our New Year’s celebrations.”

A dictator can’t afford to look weak. He can act this way only if he is absolutely certain that Flynn is speaking for Trump. This means they trusted Flynn absolutely. The were sure that they were going to win in this situation.

Are you perhaps overestimating their intelligence? You are assuming that they had good reasons for trusting Flynn.

Let’s not underestimate Putin. He follows K.G.B. logic. Remember, when several countries expelled Russian diplomats, Putin went tit for tat. I think he even expelled a Hungarian. And yet he didn’t respond to the Americans that time. He was expecting to win big.

My conclusions come from looking at Kissinger’s trip to Moscow and, from what I see, his long-standing connections to Gazprom. It was obvious that China was being distanced and Trump was ready to give himself over to Putin. They were readying the ground for denouncing nato Article 5. This is the picture I get when I add it all up.

James Harvey, executive director of the National Superintendents Roundtable, reports on the implications of the recent elections for education in many states. That organization is the opposite of the unaccredited Broad Superintendents Academy, in that its members are certified superintendents, mostly from mid-size school districts.

Lost in the partisan noise around Tuesday’s midterm elections was a lot of school news. A former superintendent is ready to move into the Wisconsin governor’s mansion, initiatives in states across the nation will shape education moving forward, and the changing of the guard in the U.S. House of Representatives portends changes in committee makeup, leadership, and legislative emphases. Thanks to Politico, Education Week, and the Committee for Education Funding, we have early intelligence on some of these developments.

State-by-State News

Arizona: Voters refused to expand the state’s education savings account program, a voucher program that allows families to draw public funds to pay for private school tuition and other education-related expenses.

Alabama: Voters backed a referendum allowing the Ten Commandments to be displayed in schools and other public buildings.

Colorado: Voters refused to generate an additional $1.6 billion for K-12 education by raising corporate taxes and state income taxes for people earning $150,000 or more annually.

Connecticut: Jahana Hayes, 2016 National Teacher of the Year, was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Oklahoma: Voters rejected a ballot initiative that would have allowed school leaders to tap into funding typically reserved for school construction and use it in other ways such as for teacher salaries. Meanwhile, Melissa Provenzano, assistant principal at Bixby High School, and John Waldron, a social studies teacher at Booker T. Washington High School, won seats in the Oklahoma House of Representatives .

Pennsylvania: Mary Gay Scanlon, who served on the Wallingford-Swarthmore school board in suburban Philadelphia from 2007-2015, was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.

South Carolina: Voters shot down a proposal to allow the governor to appoint the state superintendent of education. The position remains an elected office.

Wisconsin: Tony Evers, a former school superintendent in Oakfield, Verona, and Oshkosh, Wisconsin, went on to be elected state superintendent of public instruction. On Tuesday, he beat incumbent Governor Scott Walker and is set to move into the governor’s mansion in January.

Teachers Seeking Office: Nationwide, NEA identified 1,800 teachers, retired teachers, and academics running for state legislative seats. There is, as yet, no comprehensive count of their success or failure.

Changing of the Guard in the House of Representatives

Insider’s Baseball: The new Congressional makeup means that ratios of CEF Logo Democrats and Republicans on committees in the House and Senate must be revised for the 116th Congress, which convenes in January. House committees will add Democratic slots (and staff) and lose Republican slots (and staff). The reverse will be true in the Senate. Precise ratios await final vote results.

Likely Key New House Committee Leaders:

Rep. Bobby Scott (Va) — Committee on Education and the Workforce, which will probably reclaim its traditional title of Committee on Education and Labor

Rep. Nita Lowey (NY) — Committee on Appropriations (jurisdiction over tax treatment of private school tuition)

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (CT) — Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, HHS, and Education

New Legislative Emphases

Analysts downplay the chances of major new legislation. House Democrats, however, have outlined their legislative priorities. These include a number of education initiatives to be paid for by revising the tax cuts enacted in the 115th Congress:

Making good on the pledge the Federal government first made in 1975 to pay for 40 percent of the excess costs of educating students with disabilities

$50 billion for K-12 school infrastructure and resources

$50 billion over ten years to increase teacher compensation and to recruit and retain a diverse workforce

$107 billion in combined federal, state, and local resources to invest in physical and digital school infrastructure, creating 1.9 million jobs.

Increasing support for Title I schools

Reauthorizing IDEA and the Higher Education Act

More vigorous oversight of the Department of Education and its regulatory actions.

There were wins and losses yesterday, and they are not all decided at 2 am, when I wrote this post. Some states have not yet declared a winner (thinking of Wisconsin, where I hope that Scott Walker was beaten).

Some losses that I mourn: Beto O’Rourke; Stacey Abrams; Andrew Gillum. All defeated by reactionaries of the worst sort.

Some significant victories:

Democrats gained control of the House of Representatives, which means they have the power of the purse, the power to hold hearings, and the power to block some of Trump’s worst plans. That is huge. Hurrah for checks and balances!

Vouchers were overwhelmingly beaten in Arizona by the teachers and moms of SOS Arizona, who scored a knock-out punch against the Koch brothers, giving vouchers their 21st consecutive loss at the ballot box. The margin was 2-1 against vouchers. Congratulations, SOS Arizona!

Real Democrats gained control of the New York State Senate, ousting the fake Independent Democratic Caucus, who voted with Republicans.

In a very close race, it appears that Democrat Tony Evers beat the vile Scott Walker for Governor of Wisconsin.

Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, was elected Governor of Michigan.

Janet Mills, a Democrat, was elected Governor of Maine, and the outgoing Governor Paul LePage announced he was relocating to Florida.

Laura Kelly, a Democrat, was elected Governor of Kansas, beating Trump acolyte Kris Kobach.

Billionaire Democrat Pritzker beat billionaire Republican Rauner in Illinois.

Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, was elected Governor of New Mexico, ending the war on teachers in that stare.

All three states that gave Trump his margin of victory in 2026–Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania—are now controlled by Democrats.

It would have been great to take the Senate, but let’s rejoice about taking the zHouse, beating vouchers in Arizona, and winning important governorships.

John Mannion, an AP biology teacher in Syracuse, is running for an open State Senate seat that has been held by Republicans for half a century.

The district voted for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, so Mannion has a good chance to win.

His victory could provide the single vote needed to flip control of the State Senate, which Republicans now Control. Republicans favor charter schools and using test scores to evaluate teachers. Cuomo has preferred divided control, so he won’t have to veto progressive legislation. He lets the Republican legislators do it for him.

Mannion pledges to focus on honesty, ethics, and a fair economy. The legislature could sure use more ethics. The last leader of the Republican State Senate, Dean Skelos, was sentenced to four years in jail for pressuring state contractors to create no-show jobs for his son. The leader of the Democratic Assembly, Sheldon Silver, was convicted of accepting bribes and was sentenced to seven years in prison, which he has appealed.

Mannion, a 50-year-old father of three, is one of about 1,500 educators—current and retired—running for office in this election. They are running as Democrats and Republicans. State legislatures and Congress need Educator voices, because they are making decisions that affect teachers. They need experienced teachers at the table.

This article in Huffington Post tells you more about John Mannion. He has been teaching for 25 years. He knows science.

Please vote for John Mannion! Send a teacher to Albany!

Pete Tucker, a writer in Washington, D.C., writes about a peculiar phenomenon: Opinion polls consistently underrate candidates who are progressive and who are black or Hispanic.

Predicting the winner (falsely) and underreporting the support for a candidate is a form of voter suppression, he writes.

Ayanna Pressley, a progressive African American congressional candidate from Boston, was predicted to lose by 13 points in the Democratic primary, but she won by 18 points. In the primary for a New York congressional seat, the final poll showed Latina socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez trailing the Democratic incumbent by 36 points; she won by 15 points. In Georgia, polls showed gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, the African American former minority leader of the State House of Representatives, well ahead in the Democratic primary, but nowhere near the 53 points she won by.

In Florida, the nation’s third largest state, polls for the Democratic gubernatorial primary showed Andrew Gillum, the progressive African American mayor of Tallahassee, finishing fourth, with around 12 percent of the vote. But Gillum won 34 percent of the vote, nearly three times what most polls had him at, and captured the nomination.

Then there’s Maryland, where the Democratic gubernatorial primary was supposed to be neck-and-neck, but the more progressive candidate, Ben Jealous, walked away with it, beating his chief challenger by over 10 points and taking all but two counties.

While primaries are difficult to predict, today’s polls are not just failing, they seem to be doing so in a way that makes progressive candidates of color appear to have less support than they do.

These polling errors are far from harmless. Faulty polls can turn into real losses by suppressing both votes and funding. It’s not hard to see why: Who is excited to back a sure-loser? This applies to potential voters, who are more likely to stay home on election day if their preferred candidate has no shot, as well as to potential donors, who would rather support a winner.

In recent years, Oklahoma has been a reliably Republican State, but this year may be different because of the state’s teacher uprising.

John Thompson writes here about the way that teachers and parents who want the state to invest in education are upending the Governor’s race.

He writes:

“In Oklahoma, the governor’s race would ordinarily result in a solid victory for an enthusiastic Trump supporter like Republican Kevin Stitt, who brandishes a “100 percent Pro-Life score” and an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association.

“But this year’s focus on education could turn the election for Stitt’s competitor, veteran Democrat Drew Edmondson, who trails by only four points, according to a recent poll.

“This year’s focus on education could turn the election for Democrat Drew Edmondson.
At a recent forum, Stitt has evaded the question of how he would fund a teacher pay raise without raising taxes. Edmondson, in contrast, committed to a $300 to $350 million annual increase for education, funded by taxes on oil and gas production, removing a capital gains exemption for high-income taxpayers, and a 50-cent tax hike on cigarettes.

“Asked about this difference in strategy, Edmondson’s campaign manager Michael Clingman said in an email, “the lack of specificity in Kevin Stitt’s messages is troubling. Teachers marched on the Oklahoma Capitol last April demanding real solutions, not vague promises….”

“Stitt is basing much of his campaign on running government like a publicly-traded company—setting performance metrics for state governance and holding subordinates accountable for measurable outputs. Drawing from his experience as the founder and CEO of Gateway Mortgage Group, Stitt describes his program as “performance metrics=accountability, efficiency and results.” He promises to fire underperformers.

“But some of the “performance metrics” from his own company don’t look so good, as revealed in an ongoing legal controversy over questionable mortgage lending practices. His company originated subprime mortgages to homebuyers who may not have qualified for traditional loans (a hearing on the Lehman Brothers suit against Gateway is set for October 29 in the Southern District of the New York Bankruptcy Court.)

“Gateway has been called one of “the 15 shadiest mortgage lenders being backed by the government.” It paid fines in three states and was penalized in five for using unlicensed lenders. Gateway lost its license and signed a consent order barring it from seeking another lender or broker license in Georgia.

“Oklahoma educators have had enough of outsiders imposing their untested opinions on classrooms. Since the walkouts this spring, over 100 current or former teachers and family members of teachers have run for local, state, and federal office in Oklahoma. Only four of the nineteen Republicans who voted against raising taxes to increase teacher pay remain in the running. Edmondson is benefiting from the energy generated by women such as congressional candidate Kendra Horn, and a record number of high-profile female teacher-candidates.

“Stitt was a no show for a recent candidate forum, where education issues were discussed. In contrast, Edmondson attended every day of the nine-day teacher walkout this April.”

Will teachers and parents “Remember in November?”

Tony Delgado is a wonderful candidate who is running in upstate New York against a Republican incumbent.

He is excellent on education issues.

I just sent him a contribution.

I hope you will too.

Our regular reader John Ogozalek went to a town hall and questioned Tony Delgado, and came away convinced that he really understands the issues that matter.

Tony’s opponent is a Trumpista.

John Thompson, historian and teacher (ret.) in Oklahoma, recently attended a rally where Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren spoke.

He reports:

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren returned home to Oklahoma City and inspired a standing-room only crowd to “Remember in November.” Sen. Warren spoke in the high school cafeteria where she used to serve detention. She’d attended middle school next door and been married at the age of 19 in a church a couple of blocks away. But that’s another story …

Warren and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten shared the stage with teachers who are running for office. Warren said, “Teachers … are staging walkouts, occupying statehouses, making their voices heard and they are winning. And right here in Oklahoma they are winning big.”

The Oklahoma Education Association President Alicia Priest also praised Oklahoma’s Teacher Caucus, the nation’s largest, with 56 of the 157 teachers who are running for office across the country this year. Twelve anti-education legislators have already been defeated.

The reasons for the revolt were apparent in the cafeteria. As the Oklahoman reported, part of the room was blocked off where “a couple of buckets collected water from leaking pipes” and “a few blocks away from the high school, a sign in front of Sequoyah Elementary asked motorists to consider donating paper and pencils.”

To see photos of Saturday’s rally, click below:

Warren had local family members in attendance and she shared childhood stories about the challenges and the ways schools opened the door to the daughter of a maintenance man. She said that Oklahoma schools can prepare kids for almost anything – even becoming a twitter partner with the President!

Most of her family were great singers in the church choir. Because she lacked that talent, the choir director kept telling her to keep her voice down, “Betsy, just a little softer …”

And still, “She Persisted!”

Warren was inspired by a 2nd grade teacher, Mrs. Lee:

She said if I worked very hard, I could become a teacher. And the hook was sunk. She had me: a teacher. Her words changed my life. Now, no one in my family had ever graduated college. (…) But when Ms. Lee said, ‘Yes, Ms. Betsy, you can become a teacher,’ I never saw my life the same way.

Warren began as a classroom teacher instructing special needs children. She also took over a 5th grade Sunday school class which had driven off a series of teachers, leaving the minister desperate. Warren changed the class culture, where little boys would climb out of the windows, by employing the Socratic Method. When discussing the difference between “obligation” as opposed to “charity,” one boy said they were obliged to not put boogers in their brother’s food. The class agreed with another child who said we have an obligation to see that, “Everyone gets a turn.”

Warren tackled the dualities under-laying every other speech and the audience’s concerns when she said, “Teachers are in the opportunity business.” Our people have often found ways to stand up to “concentrated power,” but “that America is slipping away.”

As the futures of our families are undermined by corporate greed, teachers have increasingly been “ground up and spit out.” But neither is that new. As Randi Weingarten recalled, she had been a Wall Street lawyer before teaching in the New York City schools. Even in the 1990s, Weingarten couldn’t believe how teachers had been treated in such an “infantilized” manner. Since then, educators have been dismissed and disparaged even more, while often dealing with “classrooms with 50 kids, 40 desks, and 30 chairs.”

The same themes were further explained by Rep. Mickey Dollens and state senate candidate Carri Hicks. Dollens was an inner city teacher who was laid off due to budget cuts. Hicks recalled the suffering of her 5-year-old student, shot by a stray bullet while sitting in her living room. Hicks said of the teacher revolt, “what we really demand is respect.” And we demand respect not just for ourselves but for students and their families.

Hicks noted that at a time when Oklahoma should be enjoying widespread prosperity, one of our counties, Stillwell, was just identified as having the lowest life expectancy in the nation, (with two others having life expectancies below 60 years, placing them in the nation’s bottom ten.) Hicks explained, “What most people don’t understand about teaching is we don’t just teach a subject or a classroom, we are the front line of defense for every one of our students in our classrooms.”

My wife said she had never seen anything as inspiring as the rally. She’d never seen anyone speak as powerfully as Elizabeth Warren, or do so in such a genuine, sincere, and warm manner.

I agree. Being a former teacher, I was also struck by the unity demonstrated by educators who had long tried to keep their heads down, shut their doors, and do their own jobs as best as they could. I saw what AFT/OK support staff President David Gray described. Gray said that teachers have fought back against the “testing fixation,” and the “culture of blaming teachers.” We are now resisting Betsy DeVos and the Janus anti-union decision. We have reasons for confidence, but as my good friend Mickey Dollens says, “We’re 45 days away, it is imperative that we continue to push forward and see it through.”

I was also struck by the number of local teacher candidates in the room who I’d never met. I’ve been collecting numerous stories of teacher/candidates, and the rally let me hear plenty more.

Elizabeth Warren began the afternoon by privately offering advice to numerous candidates. She concluded her call for justice with the words:

“This government fails our children, fails our teachers and fails our futures. But mark my words: tick-tock, tick-tock. Come November 6 we are going to make some big changes in this country.”

EdWeek has a good article about the number of teachers who are running (or ran) for office this year. I guess the slogan is, “If you can’t persuade them, run against them.” According to the article, 158 educators filed for state offices.

In Oklahoma, 64 teachers ran for office. 37 lost their primary; 15 won; and 12 were unopposed. In Kentucky, 20 teachers ran for office, and only five lost their primary.

Teachers have figured out that they have to be “in the room where it happens” (to paraphrase the song from “Hamilton”).

The National Education Association has helped novice candidates. Good for NEA!

Through its See Educators Run program, a series of trainings for NEA members seeking local or state-level office, the nation’s largest teachers’ union is tapping into this political moment.

The organization hopes to create a “candidate pipeline” for members, said Carrie Pugh, NEA’s political director. “[We felt] like our voices weren’t being represented.”

For many of these first-time candidates, the union offers a gateway into the messy world of politics.

NEA launched the program in 2017, but the number of applications nearly doubled after this spring.

See Educators Run has held three trainings since 2017 and graduated about 200 educators. Any NEA member who is running for office, or considering a run, can apply for a space, and the program is free for participants. The two-day program was designed to cover the basics of running a campaign “soup to nuts,” said Pugh.

While See Educators Run is nonpartisan, Pugh says that the program seeks out candidates who are “values-aligned”: supportive of funding for public schools, collective bargaining rights, and accountability measures for charter schools. The NEA also requires that local unions sign off on candidates’ applications, as affiliates share the cost of training with the national organization. Training facilitators have backgrounds in politics: They’ve worked on campaigns or for organizations like Emily’s List and Emerge that train Democratic candidates to run for office.

Topics ran the gamut from high-level strategy (how do you craft a campaign message?) to the granular details of social-media communications (how often should you post to your candidate Facebook page?).

In one session, candidates learned how to devise a field plan for their race, calculating their vote goals and the number of volunteers needed to meet them. Parts of the process read like algebra homework: If one volunteer can knock on 15 to 20 doors an hour, and you need to knock on 1,021 doors, how many volunteers do you need to sign up for two-hour shifts?

“I knew that you had to look at registered voters and things like that,” said Thomas Denton, a retired teacher from Kentucky considering a run for state legislature. “But exactly how to crunch those numbers is what’s being answered here.”
Several candidates said fundraising would be their biggest challenge.’

Know campaign-finance law inside and out, trainers told the candidates: Research the legal limits for how much individuals can contribute and the contribution filing deadlines.

In sessions, participants paired up to practice cold-calling for donations. The big takeaway? Make a clear, specific ask—even if it’s uncomfortable.

Kyla Lawrence, an assistant principal in North Little Rock, Ark., who plans to run for a seat in the state’s house of representatives in 2020, said she would have to mentally prepare to make a lot of those calls, especially to bigger donors. As a teacher, it often feels “like you don’t have the financial status to play in this arena,” she said.

Candidates were also encouraged to reference the #RedforEd movement, which became a clarion call for educators during statewide strikes this spring, while campaigning. Trainers encouraged them to talk about collective action with constituents—especially other educators—and wear the trademark bright red shirt at town halls.

The message that campaigns should champion public education resonated with Carol Fleming, a speech-language pathologist in Little Rock, Ark., who plans to run for a seat in House District 38 in 2020.

But she won’t be mentioning #RedForEd by name in her campaign, she said. In Arkansas, ” ‘strike’ is a word that you do not use.”

For many candidates in attendance, this spring’s statewide strikes were inspiring but not necessarily the catalyst for running.

Lakilia Budeau, the director of a youth-services center for Paducah public schools in Kentucky, said protests across her state reinforced her notion that she could govern better than the legislators currently in office. But she had already thought about a run for state representative before this spring.

“I’m just tired of [legislators] not having their students’ and families’ interests at heart,” she said.

Candidates said the union’s role in their campaigns wouldn’t end after they left the training.

Several plan to count on their local associations as major sources of volunteer and financial support.